Introduction by Virginia Bellis Brandabur
Leach Botanical Garden
February 17, 2019
Rachel King is remarkable for her support of her fellow authors: she’s written over 60 literary reviews and, as an editor, she’s helped polish dozens of books for publication. She’s also attended about every reading event we’ve held here at Leach Botanical Garden. Even more remarkable, however, is her dedication to her own craft, both poetry & fiction. “Writing,” Rachel says, “is something I have to do in order to exist with any kind of contentment or deep awareness.”
Once asked about the most valuable lesson she’d learned from her MFA program, Rachel said, “I’ve learned to curb my inclination for backstory.” I’d go further; I’d argue that Rachel has transformed backstory into one of her greatest literary strengths. In Rachel’s fiction, backstory is the deep and often unseen undercurrent, even as the present-day of the narrative flows swiftly forward. Many of her stories seem, on the surface, to be about the everyday life of everyday people – a farmer’s daughter, peevish about working the market, a stoical sausage-factory worker, a woman complaining to her husband about unfinished house projects – stories told with such specificity of detail, and in such an intimate, confidential tone, it’s hard to imagine Rachel herself has not lived these very lives. It’s also hard not to be swept along, as if you, too, were there, “making sure the jam labels face toward customers,” or “mid-to-late mornings,” pouring “fifty-pound tubs of meat and spices into a grinder.”
Yet there are hints of that deep undercurrent; pay attention and you’ll see a ripple here, a spinning eddy there. The market girl tells you, “Dad’s jerking baskets too hard,” and in her story the complaining wife says, “Sometimes I make a grocery list or a list of symptoms I see in patients that correspond to yours.” Here and there, often before you are quite prepared, there comes a sudden turbulence where backstory breaks through in a flash and tumble of grief or confusion or trauma or loss, and then you are back again in the everyday detail of the present narrative, only nothing looks the same. That’s when you understand: for Rachel’s characters, sometimes backstory is the whole story.
Please join me in welcoming Rachel King.